Biofuels not the Whole Answer

Not saying that biofuels are bad, but by no means are they a good answer to the Global Warming Crisis(tm). Scientific American highlights a Princeton University study printed in Science Magazine that summarizes…

“Prior analyses made an accounting error,” says one study’s lead author, Tim Searchinger, an agricultural expert at Princeton University. “There is a huge imbalance between the carbon lost by plowing up a hectare [2.47 acres] of forest or grassland from the benefit you get from biofuels.”

Turning food into fuel also has the unintended consequence of driving up food prices, reducing the access of the neediest populations to grains and meat. “It’s equivalent to saying we will try to reduce greenhouse gases by reducing food consumption,” Searchinger says. “Unfortunately, a lot of that comes from the world’s poorest people.”
“We are converting their food into our fuel,” Tilman notes. ” The typical driver of an SUV spends as much on fuel in a month as the poorer third of the world spend on food.”

So, bad for the environment AND the poor AND the economy? Not saying it couldn’t work in some areas of our economy, but to those that think that this is the Golden Ticket of energy independence, think again. That is, unless, you no longer care about Saving The Rain Forest(tm).

I’m a conservationist, myself, but I still get a kick out of watching the super-enviromaniacs eat one another over these issues. In the meantime, me and the fam will continue to keep our driving to a minimum and maximize our use of our local mass transit. KTHXBAI.

…oh…. So what would I propose then, since I’m attempting to being a smarty-pants? I’m still for invading Saudi Arabia and claiming control of the oil fields*. In the meantime, I’m all for a nuclear-based economy. Please feel free to give the litany of reason of why that/I is/am bad/evil.
*yes, that was said, specifically to get your dander up


6 thoughts on “Biofuels not the Whole Answer

  1. You have some intersting response to this article. Invading Saudi Arabia does sound interesting but I think we have invaded enought middle Eastern countries for now. Texas is the 5th largest producer of petro-fuels in the world. Maybe we should use more of that good ole’ Texas oil. Oh, yeah I wrote about this topic today as well.

  2. Yes, we’re quite all-in enough over there for now!

    Re: Texas…. Why we don’t seek out more domestic or friendly sources of black gold is a mystery to me. Probably because the next coporation that gets a bug in their pants about wanting to build a new extraction operation and refinery will have their pants sued off.

    I liked your post – more thoughtful than mine 😉

  3. Current biofuel schemes are stupid, because they’re based on using plants and farmland that can otherwise be used for food. The body is much better at converting food to energy than mechanical engines. Corn –> ethanol, for example, is about the worst kind of biofuel plan you could think of, and people are just trying it because it’s easy.

    On the other hand, switchgrass or some source of cellulose –> DMF or some better fuel than ethanol has hope of helping a little. Nobody should expect it to reduce CO2. But if it can reduce dependance on foriegn oil so much the better. I like the idea of using a weed that grows on non-arable land to make fuel.

    Another option would be algae in seabeds. I have hope for those two options.

    I think nuclear’s a decent idea. The biggest problem is not the waste, I think, but just the fact that it’s such a centralized source of power. I think for the time being it’s worthy of investment. We’ve also got to figure out what to do with the waste, which is also a centralized-type problem. I think more and more people are saying “now, why did we stop investing in nuclear again?” Make no mistake, it’s very expensive too, but I think right now it’s worth it.

    Ultimately, I’d like a decentralized source of power. If we could come up with decentralized sources of power so that individual citizens could make their own fuel/energy and then sell it to the power plant … that would be like Wikipedia for energy. I think that’s a very cool idea (and very much aligned with the independent conservative ethos!). The most obvious form of this is solar and the chemistry’s not there yet for solar (not to mention, there’s only so much power in sunlight). But as far as ultimate solutions, that general idea is what appeals to me most.

  4. Yes, the goal, I think, is to get to the point where “energy” is some sort of fungible asset (i.e. energon cubes) that could power everything from your kid’s toys to you local mall or Microsoft campus. And I would love to be able to produce my own and sell it.

    In the meantime, nuclear is the most feasable resource to fill that void …though not the self-production part… that would be a little dangerous.

    And, yes, it is expensive… and then there’s the waste. However, the French have reprocessed spent fuel rods at their COGEMA LaHague site since 1966. They see it as ecologically sound, economical and profitable.

    For goodness sake, if the French can do it, why can’t we?

  5. We heard Bill Nye speak about this last year. He talked about all the ways he has made his house green. Unfornately, I can’t remember all of them. However one involved solar powered water heaters stored on the roof. It still needed a regular water heater for really cold days.

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